Review: The Cause by Clint Stoker

The only way to fix the system is to break it.

Long after the government falls, one city is founded in it’s place. Residents of the city are granted bodies that never age or grow tired. During the day, residents work to reach new potentials and, since sleep isn’t needed, celebrate all night. But living in Utopia does have a catch.

Guilt is a crime punishable by death.

Air Dressler’s new job description lands him on the city’s firing squad. He finds it impossible to enforce the law without breaking it himself. Through long-forgotten memories and a group of reluctant rebels, Air learns how to break the city. But if he is really going to carry it out, he will have to choose between friends and ideals all the while fighting his own guilt.


While The Cause was reminiscent to me of other dystopias, there’s definitely a unique factor to it. One of the unique factors, a crucial part to the set up of the city, actually made me uncomfortable. This is one of the main pieces from the story I’ve taken away with me. It’s enough to make you cringe when reading it.  And not thanks to graphic description, but the insidious nature you know the particular scene is referring to. It makes you question how far humanity, and yourself, would go for what these people are trying to achieve.

The ability to raise questions is only one element of what I feel makes a great story, a story everyone should try reading at least once. It doesn’t matter if you’re blown away by the plot or not, there are those narratives, which will make you think and make you question during and after you’ve finished. They make the reading all the more enjoyable because of that and I think they’re very important stories. The Cause, for me, was one of those stories.

The similarities between The Cause and other dystopias, something that is hard to avoid when you read enough of the genre, is basically setting. If you’ve read a fair amount of dystopia before, how many of them have been set in a city? Plenty have city settings and most of those city based ones have a totalitarian aspect as well.

There are clear signs of control beneath the deluded sense of utopia, but I didn’t get a totalitarian government presence as much as a master of puppets keeping out of the limelight. I wonder if that was more due to the fact of the cause itself, and the main character’s memory recall, being such a large focus of the tale. Whether it was or not, I found it refreshing in a sense. I find manufactured societies are usually heavy on the government, or founding circle, side of things and the conspiracy they create. Granted there is conspiracy in The Cause, and it wouldn’t be dystopia without some degree of it, but I think there’s a nice balance between character discovery and heavy-handed machinations.

I love when a narrative delves into the human make-up, what makes us tick, and how we work when certain traits are repressed. How can it be possible to live in peace when you’re not accepting something for what it is, especially when it’s psychological? You can’t, and this is what the protagonist, Air, discovers when he takes up his job at the firing range.

What I found interesting was how certain actions and events are masked with different names. The firing squad for instance is given the title purging and from there I think the unique genius of The Cause slowly reveals itself to the reader. Everything has a subtle touch to it, but it’s not subtle to the point of missing it if you’re not paying attention. At first so much can be taken at face value with a level of innocence to it that can allow the reader, and the citizens, to gloss over and avoid the nefarious acts beneath if they choose. As you follow Air’s story, the option to avoid what’s going on becomes impossible, and I really enjoyed how the writing gave me the opportunity to have a better understanding of what Air is going through as he is going through it.

When Air began to dream, I was somewhat dubious. Sometimes I think it should be a rule to not have dreams present in stories. Sometimes. There’s always a chance, a huge chance, of messing up the story because dreams don’t usually make sense. Do they? Unless they’re like my weird ones involving shopping for groceries… The point is, most of the time dreams are pointless in stories. If they make sense, how can they be a dream? If a scene doesn’t make sense and is blamed on a dream it’s lame and you’ve probably lost your reader in the process.

So when Air begins to dream, I questioned it at first thanks to those reasonings. The questioning didn’t last long because of what the dreams represented. They not only made sense, but there was a reason for them. I actually appreciated them and the way his lost memories were discovered.

The only problem I had with The Cause is one I’m disappointed with. I found myself not being able to be swept away by it. As badly as I wanted to, and no matter how much I loved aspects of it and it’s creation, I couldn’t get into it. Believe it or not, I’m jealous of those readers who have enjoyed it as much as they have, and I will be reading it again in future because of that. I also think lovers of dystopia should definitely give The Cause a chance regardless of my immersion problems.

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